Earlier this month, the Pencak Silat National Camp in Srinagar had seen some excited faces among athletes and officials alike. It was the first National Camp across any sport that had been held in the state and expectations were noticeably high. They were preparing for the Asian Games to be held in Jakarta in August and, expectations were high. After all, the athletes had done consistently well at the continental level, and the prospect of medals was very close to reality.
A little while back today, the Indian Olympic Association, (IOA), put a rude halt to their dreams after it announced that the Pencak Silat contingent would be reduced to just two from an original 22 in the first break up of the list that the IOA had published. The reason given was that the certificates provided by the Federation to back up their athletes’ cases were fraudulent and could not be considered in the decision for selecting them for the Jakarta tournament.
“This does not make any sense for multiple reasons,” clarified an official from the Indian Pencak Silat Federation (IPSF) to The Bridge.
“Firstly, the two names who have been cleared have the same certificates as the others. How can the same certificate won at the same tournament be genuine for two people and fake for others,” he questions?
The IOA has been riddled with controversies which have led to some tough questions being raised from various factions. None of those questions has received a satisfactory reply yet from the Olympic body. Ever since the contingent for the Asian Games was announced, the IOA has been accused of maintaining different standards for different teams with a view at securing more power among its Executive officials.
Also read: Dear IOA, kindly get your act together
Can Handball have anything to do with this decision?
But there is one previous controversy which may be relevant here. Earlier last week, preparations had been thrown in slight disarray after the Asian Games organising committee included the Indian Men’s Handball team among its draws.
This came after the fact that it was only the women’s team that had been officially cleared by the IOA for participation in the Asian Games. Fingers had been pointed at one name, and it was widely speculated that the reason for Handball’s back-door entry into the Games might have had something to do with the fact that the treasurer of the IOA is also the secretary of the Handball Federation of India.
The name under scrutiny in this aspect was Anandeshwar Pandey.
It was also noted that should the Handball team attempt to withdraw from the Asian Games after already being included in the Draws, they would be penalised.
“Who is to say that this is not just some clever play to ensure that some other team with greater backing gets to go instead of us?” asks the IPSF official.
“The two names who have been cleared are not among the 22 original names that we had submitted to the IOA,” the official further clarified.
“This is not to take anything away from the two girls. They are both outstanding too but shouldn’t there be a protocol followed? The names were cleared without our consent, without even telling us,” he says.
“Isn’t there supposed to be a procedure in place when it comes to sending names for the Asian Games?” the official questions.
If Handball indeed has something to do with this last-minute inclusion of Pencak Silat it would be something akin of a tragedy for a lot more hopefuls who have so far failed to make the cut for Jakarta but have had to sit back and watch as those potentially less deserving than them got clearance.
In the case of Handball, the Indian Men’s Team had finished 12th out of 14 participating nations in the last Asian Championships, but five teams who had completed ahead will not be participating in the Asian Games which makes a case for the Handball squad stronger.
On being asked what the course of action for IPSF would be in the face of this blatant exclusion, the official left no doubts about the fact that the Federation would be pursuing legal action. “So far, we tried writing to the IOA. We asked them for a reason and justification as to why the two names were chosen over the 22 that we had submitted,” he says.
“They told us yesterday that they will send us reasons and proof to back their claim of false certificates. So far, we have heard nothing,” he continues. “We have plans of mailing the Sports Ministry as well but the hope of that making any difference is slim.”
If the IOA has cleared names and gotten the names cleared by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS), what can be the justifications behind these persistent revisions by the IOA? With the last date for submission of names gone, this sort of horse trading does not bode well for the morale of athletes as well as the reputation of India.
Even keeping aside the disappointment of not being able to participate in the Asian Games after harbouring dreams for the same, what of the preparatory camp currently going on Srinagar? “This is a Sports India funded camp,” the official said. “What about the money that was spent in rigorous preparation and selection? Is that all gone to waste now?”
Here, it should also be noted that in an effort to quell the voices calling unfairness in the Asian Games selection, MYAS secretary Rahul Bhatnagar had put out a statement regarding the Handball Team’s inclusion in the draws. He had then been quoted as saying that there was no question of such back-door entries. Can he be expected to go back on his words?
India had won six Silver & nine Bronze Medals at the 2nd Asian Pencak Silat Championship & World Sports School Pencak Silat Championship in 2016 and one Silver & six Bronze Medals in the same tournament in 2017. You can find all results of the Indian Pencak Silat team in 2016 and 2017 here.